Although we're still waiting for Disney's statement, it's now almost official: Legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter, currently Senior Vice President Creative Development at WDI and Creative Executive for Disneyland, has announced today in "an open letter to fellow imagineers" that the time has come for him to evolve his role at Walt Disney Imagineering: "Beginning this February, I will be transitioning to a position as a part time advisor. While I will not be here on a regular basis, I will continue to be available to any and all of you as needs arise. Though my time will be limited, my passion for the magic WDI creates will be just as strong."
Although Tony will become a part-time consultant for WDI, it's an extremely sad news for all Disney Parks fans. As Jim Hill says in his today's article Tony Baxter "ate, slept and breathed theme parks" and, for me, Tony is probably the Imagineer who is the closer to Walt's spirit, with the same passion for Disneyland that Walt had.
Tony Baxter started his career at Disneyland at age 17, scooping ice cream on Main Street, U.S.A. After several years of odd jobs at the park, he garnered attention through a portfolio of attraction concepts and was hired at WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering), where he has remained since. His roles on his first projects were relatively minor, but he was then given extensive creative control and we will have a look now at all the greta things we owe to him.
Big Thunder Mountain debuted at Disneyland in 1979. Since, four different versions war built in Disney parks around the world, the biggest, fastest and best one being the one standing on its own island at Disneyland Paris Frontierland.
In 1983 Tony was in charged of Disneyland New Fantasyland...
...and at Epcot opened the great - and unfortunately now extinct in its original version - Journey into Imagination attraction and pavilion, with Dreamfinder and the beloved Figment character.
In 1989 Splash Mountain opened at Disneyland and Tony succeeded to designed one of the most perfect attraction ever - and one of the happiest one!
But Tony's biggest masterpiece came in 1992 with the opening of Disneyland Paris. With the help of DLP show-producers Eddie Sotto, Jeff Burke, Chris Tietz, Tom Morris, and Tim Delaney, Tony designed the most beautiful Magic Kingdom in the world!
Last April, for DLP 20th anniversary, Tony was back at DLP and gave to all DLP fans a memorable master class at Discoveryland Videopolis.
In 1995 Tony's other masterpiece opened at Disneyland: Indiana Jones Adventure, which i personally consider as one of the three best attraction ever done if not THE best one.
In 1998, always under the creative eye of Tony, it was the year of Disneyland New Tomorrowland.
I can't resist to re-post Eric Heschong beautiful artwork for this new Tomorrowland, done under Tony's supervision.
In 2007 Tony's latest creation was the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland...
...And 2008 was the year of the new Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through at Disneyland.
Tony was also the inspiration for many others major rides, from Star Tours to the Little Mermaid, and also, as any WDI Imagineer, Tony had some concepts "that never were". Among them, one of the most famous is indeed his Discovery Bay project for Disneyland which partly found a new life at DLP Discoveryland.
On March 12, Fantasy Faire will open at Disneyland and it will be also the last project supervised by Tony Baxter while he was "full time" at WDI. But when Tony will leave WDI he will also leave others great concepts which might become real someday. And if you are a Tony Baxter fan and want to see one of them become reality the best thing you can do is to rush in theaters to see OZ, the Great and Powerful when it will be released next month. Why? Because if the movie is a big success then Disney might give its green light to build in the back of Frontierland what will be Tony's latest concept during his WDI career: a whole new land based on the Wizard of OZ... and probably a new Tony masterpiece.
I've said it before and say it again: it's a real pity that occidental countries don't have the same notion of "living treasure" that japanese have for someone older. The experience that someone like Tony Baxter has acquired during his career at WDI is priceless and i sincerely hope that younger imagineers will remember that Tony IS a living treasure and will not hesitate to ask him assistance in their projects when they will need it. As for us, Disney fans, we all have to thanks Tony from the bottom of our heart for the infinite joys and thrills that Tony's creations gave to us since 4O years. We will all miss you dearly, Tony!
You can read Tony's full open letter on former imagineer Mark Hickson website HERE.
Pictures: copyright Disney, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Mouse Planet